“THE CHOICE”

JOSHUA 24

NOVEMBER 1, 2009

 

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            She came back to the States from her third-world missionary assignment.  She went to a grocery store and could hardly believe her eyes.  Here, let’s let her tell it:

 

            I was astonished to see the numbers of choices one had to make just walking down the aisles of the market.  Take the potato chip section.  When I left the United States, there were two kinds, plain and ruffled.  Now there are all sorts of chips, salted or unsalted, ribbed and unribbed, nacho, onion, barbecue, sour cream, salt and vinegar, baked or unbaked.  Think of all the time and effort has to be expended just to make these incredible numbers of choices. 

 

            Choices - we face them every hour of every day.  Some we handle routinely, others we agonize over, and today Joshua confronts us with another choice.  As we wrap up our study of the book of Joshua let’s turn to what he wants us to decide.

            If you were here last week, you remember that the book of Joshua concludes with two versions of the same farewell address.  Last week we looked at the version in chapter 23, the “How to Be a Success in the Promised Land” version.  Today we turn to version two and we will simply title it, “The Choice.”

            Picture the scene.  Joshua has chosen a dramatic setting for the address.  He’s in Shechem next to a great symbol of Hebrew history.  He’s next to Jacob’s well.  You might remember Jacob from our Genesis series.   God changed Jacob’s name to Israel and Jacob had twelve sons who became the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel.  And Joshua is standing next to Jacob’s well, sort of the Plymouth Rock of their time, and Joshua chose this setting because he had something important to ask.

            Open your bible and turn to chapter 24, and let’s look at his last recorded words.  Against this rich, historical backdrop, Joshua begins his farewell address by reviewing the history of Israel, and you can read about it in the first thirteen verses.  We won’t read it here, but imagine as you read it that there is patriotic music playing softly in the background, something like “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” or “Israel the Beautiful.”  This is a very patriotic moment as Joshua reviews the history of Israel, and then the music stops, the history lesson is over, and he utters these momentous words.

 

            Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.  Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

 

            Joshua would have made a great Presbyterian.  By that I mean, he has a very low key style of evangelism.  He doesn’t cajole people into making decision to follow God.  He doesn’t whip them into an emotional frenzy by having them sing thirty verses of “Just As I Am.”  No, he simply says, ‘Here’s what I’ve done.  What are you going to do?”

            So the book of Joshua ends with him asking the Israelites, and ultimately us, to make a choice, “Whom are you going to serve?  My family and I have made our choice.  How about you?”  And what about us?  Whom are we going to serve?  What will bring us the greatest satisfaction?  What will bring us inner peace?  What will exercise the best influence on our character?

            Now, as we listen to Joshua this morning, we fall into two categories.  We are either “first choicers” or we are “second choicers.”  “First choicers” are those who have yet to decide to follow Christ, and if they decide to follow Christ, it will be a first in their lives.  And to all the “first choicers” here today, listen to what Joshua says to you.  Verse 19.

 

            But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God.  He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.  If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.

 

            Note, how Joshua is sort of an anti-evangelist.  You have heard the term anti-Christ, someone who is opposed to Christ?  Well, Joshua is sort of an anti-evangelist.  Instead of trying to get us to follow God, he tries to talk us out of it.  Joshua says, and this is a rough paraphrase, “Weigh this decision very carefully because it’s tough to follow the Lord,” and in just a moment I will say more about Joshua’s strange tactics here, but first I want to comment on two things Joshua says here about God.  One of the things he says, I like.  The other, I dislike.

            First of all, I like the fact that Joshua calls God a jealous God.  I like the fact that God gets jealous.  We often view jealousy as a childish emotion, and it can be at times, but at other times jealousy is just what the doctor ordered.  For example, imagine me saying to my wife, “Trudy, go ahead and date around.  Spend as much time with other men as you like.  It doesn’t bother me at all because I don’t have a jealous bone in my body.”  Now if I said that, what would Trudy think?  She would think, “I guess he doesn’t love me all that much.  If he did love me, he would get jealous,” that’s what she would think.

            But I would never say that.  You see, jealousy can be a very appropriate emotion when it is used to protect a sacred relationship. And God becomes jealous when our relationship with him is threatened.  God loves us so much that if we become attracted to other gods, God will become jealous and fight tooth and nail to get us back.

            So, I like the fact that God gets jealous.  But I don’t like it when Joshua says that God will not forgive our sins.  Listen to his words once again, verse 19, He is a jealous God; he will not forgive our transgressions or sins.  I don’t like that statement because it’s not true.  God is not unforgiving.  Take the Old Testament book Hosea, for example.  It was written a few hundred years after the book of Joshua and it’s the story of a faithless Israel.  It’s the story of how Israel becomes a harlot, getting into bed with other gods, and how much God wants Israel back.  In fact, the overwhelming theme of the book of Hosea is “God will forgive.  No matter what we have done, no matter how far we have strayed, God will take us back.”  That’s also the message of the entire New Testament.

            That brings us to an important biblical principle of interpretation.  The principle of interpretation is this: “Interpret scripture with scripture,” and when we apply that principle, when we compare what Joshua says to other portions of scripture, Joshua gets it wrong.  What he says here about forgiveness flies in the face of the rest of the bible.  Why did he get it wrong?  He got it wrong because he lived at the early stages of biblical revelation.  In the years to come God would reveal more about himself through the likes of Hosea and David and John and Luke.  Joshua, in the early stages of biblical revelation, simply got it wrong.  Joshua knew much more about God’s judgment than God’s mercy.

            OK, those are the parenthetical remarks, now let’s return to Joshua, the anti-evangelist.  Do you find his tactics here strange or helpful?  Do you think he’s using reverse psychology, telling the people they will never be able to follow the Lord, in order to get them to follow the Lord?  I used reverse psychology when our children were young.  I would say something like, “There’s no way you can get the dishes done in ten minutes,” and they would say, “Oh yeah, watch this,” and they would spring into action.  Of course, when they got a little older and wiser and I would say, “There’s no way you can get the dishes done in ten minutes,” they would say, “You’re right, Dad, we can’t,” and the reverse psychology would not work.  Is that what Joshua’s doing here?  Using reverse psychology?  Or is he simply being honest with them?  Is he saying, “Before you say ‘Yes,’ to God, count the cost.  Read the fine print.”

            I suspect it’s the latter.  I think he’s saying, “I’ve weighed the benefits and the costs of following the Lord, and I encourage you to do the same.  Don’t be hasty.  Think it over.”  You see, there are a lot of wonderful things about following the Lord, but to be honest, some things aren’t all that hot.  For example, if you enjoy carrying grudges and planning revenge, if you decide to follow the Lord, you will have to give that up.  If you love to gossip, you will have to zip your lip.  If you are tight with money, you will have to become more generous.  If you like being grumpy, you will have to learn how to be civil.  If you like getting your way, you will have to learn how to submit to God and others.  If you are a controlling person, you will have to turn the steering wheel over to Christ.  Following the Lord is not all that easy, and not always that enjoyable.  It’s not a walk in the park.

            So that’s what Joshua says to “first choicers.”  He says, “Count the cost.  Think it through.”  Now let’s turn to what he says to “second choicers.”  “Second choicers” are those who chose to follow Christ at one time in their life, but they need to choose again.  Here’s what Joshua says to “second choicers.”  Verse 14.

 

            Now, therefore revere the Lord, and serve him with sincerity and faithfulness.

 

            Let me take a little poll here.  How many of you have been a Christian over five years?  10 years?  20 years?  30 years?  40 years?  50 years or longer?

            I want to read a portion of a letter, that I received from a friend.  We were in a small group together and our assignment was to write an open letter to God, recalling the first time we sensed God’s presence in our lives and ways in which God had revealed himself to us.  And by the way, the man who wrote this letter has been a Christian over 50 years, but something major took place in his life 6 years ago.  He made a second choice when it came to God.  Here’s a portion of the letter.

 

            Dear God,

 

            I’ve been thinking about when I was first aware of your presence.  There are several answers to that, God.  I think there was never a time that I didn’t know about you.  Intellectually, I’ve always known that you exist.  My parents knew you too, and through them, I knew that you were around.  I’m sure you remember hearing prayers from me and my family at meals, and at bedtime for more than fifty years.  And you know that I’ve been in church in worship services on most Sundays my entire life.  So you’ve always existed in my intellectual being.

 

            Are you following this?  Fifty plus years in the church.  He hardly missed a Sunday and intellectually he knew God existed.  Now listen to what comes next.

 

            But knowing you has been so much better than being convinced of your existence.  Your presence is so much more exciting than your existence.  Now I know that you’ve always wanted to be present in my life, but I didn’t really invite you to be present as my Lord and Savior, the number one priority in my life until I met you face to face while I was a pilgrim on the Walk to Emmaus.  In the six years or so since that meeting, I’ve been trying to take every step with you.  I let you down, but you don’t let me down.  And walking with you brings so many joys.

 

            See what this guy did?  He went from celebrating God’s existence to experiencing God’s presence.  He moved beyond making an intellectual choice about God to making a relational choice about God.  I suspect there are a number of us here today, who need to make a second choice, a choice to move beyond an intellectual relationship with God to a personal relationship with God.

            And what would it look like if we made this second choice?  What would it look like if we revered the Lord and served him sincerely and faithfully?  At minimum it would involve three things.

            First, we would begin the day by reporting for duty.  We would begin each day by saying, “This is the day you have made and have given me, Lord.  I want to be your person and do your will.  Point me in the right direction today, and help me to be conscious of your presence during the day.”

            Second, when we walked into our office or school room or factory or neighborhood, we would say, “This is your place, Lord, and I am your instrument.  Help me to see this place as a ministry and not just a place to live or a job.”

            Third, at the end of the day, before our eyes shut, we would review the day.  We would confess where we weren’t acting like a servant, and thank God for the times we did act as a servant.  We would go to bed asking God to right our wrongs and give us a great night’s sleep so that we would be refreshed and ready to serve him the next day.

            Remember Joshua’s question?  “Choose this day whom you will serve?”  Amen.